Momma’s 12 Days of Christmas Presents I’m An Old Fashioned Kind of Girl: My Bloated Cookie Nostalgia by Bridgette of Shortcut Girl

Bridgette Gallagher of Short Cut GirlBridgette Gallagher is a high school English teacher in Saratoga Springs, NY. Her blog, Shortcut Girl, is her way of getting the general public to read her crazy (yet poignant) rants about  parenting, making life easier, and laughing at yourself. You can follow her @shortcutgrrl or like her on Facebook

 

I spent a lot of time in my childhood awaiting the season of my mother’s holiday cookie baking to commence. Sometimes it was a lazy Saturday, sometimes a late weekday evening, sometimes a long Sunday afternoon. But they were always there. Tupperware containers full of cookies stacked on the dining room table. Tightly sealed, delectable treats that released a smell of sweet butter and chocolate when you lifted up the cover, just a smidge, to grab one. Cookies that adorned platter after platter my Mom gave as gifts to neighbors, friends, and family alike. Christmas cookies were a fixture of the season. They were what brought me home from college, and what I asked for when my Mom came to visit me in my own home for Christmas. They were everything the holiday was– nostalgic, sweet, and comforting.

When you grow up, there are things you just think you’ll get better at. Baking and cooking was one of those things for me. I thought a switch would flip and eventually I would start to enjoy an evening spent at home, making five dozen cookies. Each Christmas I made excuses like, ‘When I have a home…’ Or  ‘when I am married’ or ‘when I have kids’, yet I still just expected my Mom to make her cookies each year while I remained in grownup cookie purgatory – wanting the product without the work. Wanting the nostalgia without the flour-covered counter and buttered hands.

And now, married, with a home, two children and a whole lot of Christmas cheer, I still wait for some strike of Yuletide lightning to make me into my mother.

My husband called me out on this early in our relationship. We were invited to a cookie exchange and I, the ever practical and thrifty gal, made (gasp!) slice and bake cookies. He mocked me very sweetly, calling me ‘an old-fashioned kind of girl’. Much to my chagrin, my husband is known for his playful and often spot-on sarcasm. Thus, he also called my sad attempt at a personal touch ‘a drop of poo’. (I put a Hershey’s Kiss on cookies that were too hot and the kiss just melted into what looked like, well, poo.) This Christmas was just the first of many where I would realize I might not have what it takes to be a cookie-baking Mom. Tradition ruined. Forever.

Last year, in an attempt to circumvent my fate of being a not-so-old-fashioned kind of Mom, I made cut-out cookies with two toddlers, from scratch, in a small kitchen, with only one oven and two cookie cutters. On a weeknight, no less. I must say that cut-out cookies should come with a warning: This will take you more time than you might ever want to spend on preparing anything. Please proceed only if you are prepared to lose your patience, your sense of purpose in life, and your dignity. These cookies will zap any Christmas spirit you have left. And, if you have even a teeny bit of perfectionist in you, don’t. Just don’t do it.

“I was literally making cookies for three hours. I counted,” I exclaimed to a coworker the next day. And soon, I realized what all my well-intentioned Martha Stewart-ness had done. I had zapped the holiday spirit right out of something that is supposed to be full of nostalgia, sweetness, and comfort. I was singlehandedly sucking the love out of one of my mother’s favorite traditions. I had become a grouchy, harried, cookie-baking Grinch. I was not honoring my mother’s tradition, I was chore-ifying it.

I find myself doing this with other things at other holidays— carving pumpkins (That is a mess I cannot even stand!), making Valentines (Why did I write out twelve valentines for two-year-old children who I know will be handing them to their parents, who will, in turn, throw them in the trash, just as I do, right after the party?) And I find that I am doing it again, sucking the life out of something that is supposed to be fun and — about your kids. And that’s when I got it.

Never once, I mean, not even for one second of any day, at any time, did I ever wonder if my Mom, my sweet, loving, baking, hugging, kissing Mom, liked what she was doing for me and my Christmas memories. Never did I think that maybe she was tired, harried, haggard, or strung out on coffee at the end of a long week. Never did I think that she, ever, would not want to make the cookies that had built the very foundation of all of my holiday memories as a child. Never once did I think the act of baking Christmas cookies was a chore, rather than a gesture of pure love.

Because she never let me.

I expected to want to do all the things she did because she seemed like she wanted to. She never let a Christmas go by without those morsels of memory into which we’d sink our teeth. She never let a Christmas Eve go by without preparing a heaping platter and passing it around. She never missed a chance to pass me a bag of my favorite peanut butter candies to take home with me.

Recently, a bunch of girlfriends and I sat around talking about how we have now gotten to the point in motherhood where we call our husbands as “Daddy” when talking to our children. It’s something I always thought was a little obnoxious. My friend illuminated it when she said, “When you have kids, you talk about things from their point of view.”

That’s it. When I think about my mother and her cookies, and the memories that they created, I am taken back to when I was just a person who worried about herself and no one else. I didn’t know whether my mother was tired, frustrated, bored, sad, mad, or glad. I knew that she made cookies. And that was all I needed.

So, instead of allowing bloated nostalgia to dictate the cranberry stringing, the Christmas caroling, the ornament baking, the hot cider mulling, the snowman sculpting that you know your parents did, remember this: Kids will love whatever you do around Christmas. They will remember it, and it will become a part of their own bloated nostalgia down the road. You don’t need to sentence yourself to solitary cookie confinement or gingerbread house arrest in order to provide your kids with good holiday memories. Just do what works for you. That’s how they would remember it, anyway.

 

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That Kid, That Time: A Guest Post by Kate at Sweet ‘n’ Sour

 

Find Kate at her blog Sweet ‘n’ Sour, where she writes about all things weird and wonderful. She’s the astounded mother of two boys and lives in Oakland, California. You can also follow her on Facebook.

 

My older boy will be 12 soon. This is the child born more than a week early, weighing six pounds, three ounces. Now he’s over 100 pounds and within spittin’ range of my height (5’10”) — broad of shoulder, muscular of thigh. Lately, when I catch him doing some uber-physical boy thing like wrestling his brother to the ground or running the soccer ball until he’s dripping sweat, I realize, My God! I’m raising a man.

I have always felt at ease around this kid, connected and close. Of course, now that he’s on the cusp of puberty, he’s exploring the limits of this connection; he’ll pull away for a while, let some distance flow into the space between us, and then, when he’s ready, meander back. I notice this mostly in public situations, where my new (and utterly predictable) ability to be embarrassing seems to manifest. “Mom,” he mutters out of the side of his mouth as he throws himself into the car at school pick up. “Turn it down.” You’d think the kid would appreciate a parent who pulls up with Smells Like Teen Spirit throbbing from the car speakers. But no.

The other night, the six of us — me, my two sons, my husband, and our infinitely neurotic poodles — sat down to watch some DVDs I had made from old home videos of the boys. I assumed watching them would be lighthearted, charming, however, I was unprepared by the intensity and complexity of my feelings as I saw my babies come back to life on the screen. There was my older boy at one-and-a-half, shriek-laughing at the antics of a young neighbor, or dancing to Sheila E and yelling, “I’m a football player!” in his baby accent, or eating birthday cake with whole-body enthusiasm. My breath caught in my throat with the renewed realization that that kid, that time, is gone.

He was 15 months old when I got pregnant with his younger brother. Even though he watched my belly grow bigger, and we talked about babies and hung out with babies and read about babies, he wasn’t prepared the day his brother was born and our duet was interrupted. How could he have been? It was hard enough for me to grasp, and I was the grownup. In the home movies, I could see him trying to master himself, trying to be a “good big brother.” He’d tense his jaw, hug the baby a bit too hard, smile a little too brightly. In the weeks after my second son was born, my older boy had night terrors — a perfect vehicle, really, for expressing all that confusion, sadness, and rage.

The amazing thing is that he’s talked to me about how hard it was for him when his brother arrived. The first time was when he was eight or so. I was cleaning the bathroom, and for some reason unknown to me, he started telling me how, once right after the baby came, he had wanted to come to me, in the bedroom where I was nursing, but I had prevented him. I sat down on the closed toilet and drew him on my lap.

“Of course it was hard when your brother was born,” I said. “You woke up one morning and there was a new baby. And you were still a baby yourself.” I told him that I loved his brother and was glad he was in our family, but I had also felt sad about the big change his birth had brought.

Four years later, piled on the couch with my family watching those DVDs, I had to breathe through some tears. There he was, my first child, glorious in his fresh-hatched beauty, having his first experience of loss, and its companion, suffering. At just two, he got a taste of the bittersweet flavor of human intimacy — how hard it can be to trust the connection, even in disconnect. And there was nothing I could have or should have done to protect him.

If I had a choice, I wouldn’t want to go back to those baby days, not really. After all, the current iteration of my son is pretty great, with all the soccer and electric guitar and endless fart jokes. But even so, the night we watched the home movies, after the boys were in bed, I went to my room and cried for a while, grieving the passing of that kid, that time.

Pop Stories: Got Crazy?

cigarette butts

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up – rolling meatballs with my grandmother, killing ants in the yard with my grandfather (what was it with old people and ants?), and going out with them to visit even older people.

Most fun, though, were the trips with my grandfather. See, my grandfather was a little batty, plus he didn’t exactly have first-hand experience raising kids (even though he had seven of his own). Despite this lack of experience, however, he did manage to spend plenty of time with his three granddaughters during the summer. And every outing was an adventure.

My family and I would often travel into Connecticut to a lake/recreational area we enjoyed. It took a little time to get there in the car, but we would pile in, with our giant metal coolers and fifty towels, and we would spend the day. There were slides and diving boards and a water wheel (which were all later removed for insurance purposes…), a snack bar, picnic area, playground, and video games. It was heaven.

Sometimes he would take us (myself and my two female cousins) by ourselves. Those trips were the most fun (and the most frightening).

I distinctly remember one trip there with just us and him. I must have been eight or nine. He drove, giant windows down, in a sturdy Olds, his 8-Track turned way up, all three of us whacking around in the back seat, the wind painfully whipping our hair into our eyes and faces. He also smoked. Camels. Unfiltered.  Filthy, stinky Camels. We knew better not to ask him to put a window up, plus it was too hot to rest your hand on the metal ashtrays on the armrests. Chances were also pretty good we’d suffocate if the windows were up, anyway, so we kept our mouths shut.

We thought he might have been going just a little fast. I don’t know if it was our helpless perception since we were unbuckled and rolling around in the back seat or what, but I felt we were going fast. And he seemed to be weaving a little. Or dancing. Maybe he was dancing.

Anyway, we had sort of settled in and were ‘enjoying’ the ride, my grandfather smoking and singing, until he had finished off one of his cigarettes. He threw it out the window, either unaware or unconcerned that all the windows were open, and it almost instantly flew back into the car through our window.

My cousins and I screamed as the lit cigarette zipped around our heads. One of us screamed, “Pop! Pop! Stop the car! Your cigarette! It’s burning us!” or something to that effect, to which he responded, “Well, trow (he said TROW, yes, not THROW) it out!” and kept driving. We knew he wasn’t going to pull over.

He continued driving and singing Bobby Darin, or Fats Domino, or whoever, and, I guess, have a good time, while my cousins and I, horrified, played hot potato with the lit cigarette in the back seat. We alternated between screaming and raising our backsides up off the bench to avoid having our tails burned. I don’t remember who or how long it took, but one of us finally harnessed the smoke and threw it out the window, this time for good.

All three of us breathed a sigh of relief. In the car, I secretly prayed he would smoke no more cigarettes on the way there (or the way back) and that we would actually get there, because things were looking a little shaky.

Once our ‘wild ride’ was over, we unpacked the car, and headed in to swim and play. My grandfather never said a word about the cigarette incident. Not a word. Like it never happened. And neither did we. Not to him, anyway.

My cousins and I have, though, broken down over the years, into fits of laughter bordering on tears, recounting this story, while the rest of our family looked on, not sure whether to believe us, apologize for him, or laugh along. You could tell, though, by my grandmother’s knowing glance, that there was nothing unbelievable about it.

And yes, we went out with him again after that. And again. But I am pretty sure he learned his lesson about the cigarettes.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Pop Stories: Got Crazy? entitled “You’re a Grand ‘Ole Flag”.

Why Our Parents Put Us To Shame

 

 

I often think about how we survived under the watch of our parents.  There were no infant seats (how did you get anywhere with me in the car?), no seat belts (ok, there were seat belts, but they weren’t safe and no one wore them), people smoked basically everywhere, we gnawed happily on plastic and toys full of lead, climbed on high steel monkeybars, and electrical outlets were always in plain view and ready for a zappin’.

Parenting standards have obviously changed over the years (and most for good reason), but here’s why I say our parents rocked.

They Cooked. Meals. In pans. Sometimes even in the oven. Every day. And if we were hungry, we ate. There were very few drive-thrus, no Toaster Strudel, microwaves, Lunchables, or pizza delivery. We ate meals, you know, with a starch and a vegetable. There was no such thing as a Meal Deal, and items that are passed off as meals today, like the “Pizza and Cookie” combo pack, Hot Pockets, or Jalapeno Poppers, didn’t exist.

They Sent Us Outside to Play. We played outside, often, most times until after dark. They encouraged it. We were only in the house when it was raining, and sometimes not even then. I remember not even knowing what to do with myself in the house, and would keep checking the window to see if the rain stopped so I could go back outside.

They weren’t afraid to discipline us. For the most part. They weren’t afraid of looking like a “bad parent” at the mall. They weren’t afraid of telling us we were out of line and punishing us accordingly. Speaking of which, I was in the grocery store with my son just yesterday, and saw this couple whose daughter was just about the same age as my son (about 18 months), whining and making noise. She wasn’t throwing, kicking, biting, crying, nothing. Just making noise. The dad was embarrassed. He picked the girl up and held her close, as the mother scooted quickly around the store, picking up what they needed. They wanted out of there, lest they be judged. The kid wasn’t even misbehaving, at least not according to my standards. When they walked by me, I heard the Dad whisper to the little girl, “See, he’s being a good boy. Why can’t you just be a good girl?”

They weren’t parenting philosophy zealots. When I was young, if you went, let’s say, to your son’s baseball game, you’d find parents, sitting, cheering, supporting their kids. You wouldn’t be able to determine which one was the attachment parenting family, or the vegan family, or the vaccination-free family, or the sustainable living family, or the gluten-free family, or the green family. There were just families. And they played. Together. No one was on their soapbox trying to assert their will, or looking down on others for not following suit.

We knew the value of money. Probably not that well, but definitely better than now. I was happy when I had enough money to buy myself a cassette. We had some toys, a few favorites, and we played with them until they basically fell apart. We didn’t have Nintendo DS’s with fifteen games, an iPod, a cell phone, a laptop, and DVDs to keep us entertained. What do you suppose that would cost in allowance? Six years’ worth?

They allowed us to make friends. Things weren’t so incestuous when we were young. Our parents let us, for the most part, make our own decisions with regard to our friends. If I didn’t like what another kid was about, I wouldn’t play with him. My parents didn’t go to beenverified.com to conduct a background check on my friends’ parents, or friend the kid’s parent(s) on Facebook to find out what their deal was. Friendships weren’t contrived by way of playdates. We went outside, remember? Just like the other kids. We made friends organically.

They threw us birthday parties. With cake and party hats. I don’t remember ever attending a birthday party of the magnitude that I see today. I remember a wayward pizza or rollerskating party, but a party with ponies? Inflatables? Spa days? What?? We were lucky if our party had ballons (which mine rarely had). Our parents weren’t concerned about impressing the neighborhood. They were concerned about celebrating our birthday, and for us, that meant family, friends, cake, a few bags of chips, soda, and ice cream. If we were lucky, we got a themed paper tablecloth and that crummy Happy Birthday sign with 50 pieces of old tape on it from everyone else’s birthday. And do you remember the pictures? We were smiling. We were happy. We weren’t those little ingrates whose ponies, limos, karaoke, and sponsored gift bags weren’t enough.

Things have come a long way since my childhood. Things are better, safer, less labor-intensive, and more convenient for sure. But with that comes a lot of, well, crap. Though I’m moving into the future with my babies, and am actually looking forward to navigating these winding and socially complicated roads, I still wouldn’t trade, for all the money in the world, the genuine, raw, and meaningful upbringing I experienced. I really didn’t want a pony ride, anyway.

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